Among the top lots of the Bonhams London Fine Jewellery Sale on September 24 is the 50.13-carat Hope Spinel. The octagonal step-cut spinel is expected to fetch $240,000 - $310,000. However, Emily Barber, director of Bonhams jewelry department in London, said it could sell for much more.
“It not only had the amazing provenance but it’s also an exceptional gemstone in its own right,” she said. “You just don’t see pieces of this quality and provenance on the open market very often. It’s very exciting.”
The gemstone is part of one of the world’s greatest gem collections and will be offered for sale for the first time in 98 years.
It was owned by London banker Henry Philip Hope whose collection of approximately 700 gems includes the Hope Diamond (The 45.52-carat blue diamond that is part of the permanent collection in the Smithsonian National Natural History Museum). He kept the collection until his death in 1839.
The Hope Spinel’s origins are from the Kuh-i-Lal mines, in Tajikistan, according to the Swiss gemological laboratory, SSEF.
“The mines are geographically difficult to get to and politically in the 20th century weren’t being used,” Barber said. “That makes spinels like these exceptionally rare even without the provenance of the Hope Spinel.”
A spinel is a gemstone sometimes confused with ruby because they’re found in the same rock formations, are chemically similar and often have a pinkish-red coloring, Barber explained. But very large specimens are often more transparent and have fewer inclusions than ruby.
“Incredible transparency and impeccable cut of the Hope Spinel mean it is classed as an ‘exceptional treasure,’” she said.
The gem is set within decorative old brilliant and rose-cut diamond claws, framed by larger old brilliant-cut diamonds (total diamond weight 6.50 carats), mounted in silver and gold and worn as a brooch/pendant with detachable fittings. There’s a handwritten note in the case describing it as a spinel-ruby from the Hope Collection.
Henry Philip Hope never married and secretly gifted his gem collection to a nephew to avoid inheritance tax. Family wrangling caused the collection to be split among two nephews.
The spinel was eventually sold at auction in 1917 for approximately $1,600 (about $120,000 in today’s currency). It eventually turned up in the collection of Lady Mount Stephen, who was married to a Canadian philanthropist living in the UK. When Stephen died in 1933, the spinel went to her niece-by-marriage, Elsie Reford, who along with her husband, amassed one of the most important collections of art in Canada. The spinel was gifted to Elsie Refords’ granddaughter, who was also Lady Mount Stephen’s god daughter.
“The current owner is a direct descendant who has always known it as being ‘Aunt Gian’s (Lady Mount Stephen) Hope spinel,’” Barber said.
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